2019 NBA Playoff Preview: Celtics vs. Bucks
Before the season started, the Boston Celtics were the odds-on favorites to win the East. But as the season went on, the Milwaukee Bucks changed that narrative. While we all could wish that this matchup should happen later rather than sooner, there’s no denying that this second round series has all the trappings of a conference finals.
Both the Bucks and Celtics have made quick work of their opponents in the first round to forge this grudge rematch.
Last season, the Celtics beat the Bucks in seven games in the first round. But a lot of things have since changed. Heading into the playoffs, the Bucks have the slight edge with a 2-1 regular season record over their rivals. If that’s a preview of what is to come, then buckle up for a close series.
Here are the five factors that could determine the outcome of this series.
There’s no doubt that this is going to be an explosive matchup.
Both teams have the superstar cornerstones and the firepower from their supporting cast.
Both make a living from the outside with the Bucks second in three-pointers made with 13.5 made while the Celtics are in the sixth spot with 12.5 made per game.
The Bucks’ offense is anchored by the most unstoppable force in Giannis Antetokounmpo and surrounded by an array of outside shooters.
The same can be said of the Celtics who run their offense through Kyrie Irving. In the first round series against Indiana, the enigmatic point guard finally struck a balance between his aggressive attacking and superior playmaking that could bode well for them in this series.
The Bucks, meanwhile, ran the Detroit Pistons to the ground with Antetokounmpo playing less minutes showing us how balanced the Bucks’ offense can be.
The Bucks had the best defensive rating despite giving up the most three point shots in the league. They somehow balance this out with a superior interior defense anchored by Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez manning the paint and by negating their opponent’s outside shooting with their own.
It’s a gamble that coach Mike Budenholzer has been winning so far. But in their lone regular season loss to Boston (113-117 on Nov.1), they were doomed by allowing the Celtics to make 24-of-55 three-pointers.
They better hope the Celtics don’t catch fire from the outside.
On the flipside, coach Brad Stevens is searching for answers on how to slow down Antetokounmpo, who has punished them with 31.0 points on 59.3 field goal percentage and 12.7 free throw attempts per game this season.
If they double or extend the help defense, Antetokounmpo’s a willing passer. He averaged 4.3 assists against the Celtics this season.
It’s going to be a physical series with both teams having plenty of scrappy players who are willing to do the dirty work.
Edge: too close to call
While all eyes will be on Antetokounmpo and Irving on the court, the coaching battle on the sidelines deserves some spotlight too.
Stevens is a brilliant young mind who’s managed to reach the conference finals twice the past two seasons despite having relatively less talent. He is one of the best coaches when it comes to in-game adjustments with a growing reputation for his after-timeout plays.
Budenholzer won’t be left behind when it comes to playoff experience. He’s been to the conference finals once while also building a perennial playoff contender in Atlanta before joining the Bucks this season.
Budenholzer though had more success in having his team buy into his system whereas Stevens has had a rough time managing the egos on his team.
The Big Lead
Antetokoumnpo and Irving are a given to lead their respective teams. But there are other guys to watch out for who can tilt the balance of this series.
For the Bucks, they have Eric Bledsoe who is a man on a mission eyeing his own redemption after he was embarrassed by Terry Rozier last season. Then there’s also Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic, big men who can shoot the 3 that can make the Celtics second guess doubling or helping out on Antetokounmpo.
The Celtics have Gordon Hayward, who as of late has started to find his rhythm. Hayward and Jayson Tatum will have to step up to provide consistent firepower as the Bucks defense is expected to zero in on Irving.
The Celtics have been to the conference finals twice and now they have Kyrie Irving who knows what it takes to win a championship.
While the Bucks have a seasoned coach in Budenholzer, they are still scratching their potential as a team.
While Antetokounmpo is regarded as the most unstoppable force in the league, he has yet to prove his true mettle in the clutch.
On the other hand, it’s hard to bet against Irving at this stage.
So when push comes to shove, the Celtics have the luxury of giving the ball to Irving who has a knack of making big plays on the biggest stage.
The Bucks have yet to be tested in the playoffs. They are in for a rude awakening in this round. They have the slight edge owing to the cohesion they have shown this season and should be favored in a short series. But if the Celtics can rise up above their chemistry issues and the series drags on to another Game Seven, they have the experience to pull an “upset.”
BONUS: BETTING ADVICE
The series price for Celtics vs Bucks is wildly different depending on the sportsbook. The Celtics are as short as +215 and as long as +270. The discrepancy is largely motivated by the fact that the Celtics have an incredibly high ceiling, yet have played down to their relatively low floor for most of the year. Between Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford, Boston clearly has the skill to hang with Milwaukee. But Brad Stevens has struggled to make his talented puzzle pieces fit, whereas Mike Budenholzer has had the Bucks playing near-perfect team ball all season says Sascha Paruk from SBD.